Sunday, August 15, 2010

Submissions, Submissions

I’ve been wanting to talk about some interesting trends that I’ve noticed about the submissions we receive at MFA/MFYou. Like I’ve said before, from a purely quality perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the work submitted from writers who have some sort of formal training verses those who haven’t. I still stand firmly by my belief that a large percentage of writers who are actually revising and submitting are sending out stuff that is of publishable quality.

What I have noticed, though, is that we get far, far, far more submissions from non-MFA writers than from MFA’s. This was actually kind of surprising to me at first. As someone who has been through an MFA program, where you’re constantly being asked whether you’re submitting, I suppose I just assumed that writers who have gone through these programs are submitting more—or at least as much­­—as writers who haven’t.

But then I remembered that a lot of MFA’s have a negative view of online journals. Some even have a negative view of non-paying journals (which just seems ignorant to me, since many good journals are non-paying or only pay a small honorarium; your payment is that your work is getting out there). I suspect that the reason for this marked difference in submission numbers has something to do with many MFA writers not wanting to publish online. I’ve talked before about why I think online journals are an important component to any writer’s career, so I won’t get into that here.

What I will say is that the result of these off-balance submission amounts is that we do end up receiving more good stuff from MFYou’s than from MFA’s. What? But she just said . . . I know. I know. For every issue the “seriously considering” pile from MFYou’s is stacked higher than the one from MFA’s, but the ratio (good to not-so-good) is about the same for each group.

I’ve also noticed that we get significantly more poetry submissions than fiction submissions, and I’m not even talking about the fact that each individual poetry submission includes up to three poems. Again, I wonder if our status as a small, online journal affects these submission rates, but it’s interesting to think that perhaps there is way more poetry getting sent around than fiction. I heard, for example, about a poetry book contest that had roughly nine-hundred entrants; compare that with the average four or five-hundred manuscripts that get submitted to the typical fiction book contest.

If journals receive fewer fiction submissions than poetry, I wonder if this has anything to do with the possibility that a lot of fiction writers are more concerned with writing novels than short stories. Or is it perhaps because poems are so much shorter—does it take less time to revise a ten line poem than it does to revise a twenty page prose piece? Or could it be that there are simply more poets out there than fiction writers? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting and unexpected submission trend, and something that might help poets feel a little better about rejections, as it likely follows that it’s probably easier to get a prose piece published than a poem (though I should add that it’s hard to get prose published, too).

So, just some interesting things that I’ve noticed about our submission rates. It’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions since there are so many variables with these sorts of things, but I thought it would be interesting to pause and take a look at our submissions rates and what they might mean.


Anonymous said...

i don't understand why online stuff is considered negatively. it seems like a slightly fuddy-duddy approach.

i think you've mentioned elsewhere that a published story will get more readers online, for one thing.


Justus said...

It's too bad we don't have any statistically valid numbers on this stuff. I remember reading stats for one journal where the fiction submissions were like triple the poetry submissions. But then there are tons of journals that don't publish poetry at all. And I suspect that for space concerns in print publications, shorter work stands a better chance. And I've also noticed that there seem to be way more poetry book contests than fiction book contests. But all of that information is just anecdotal, and if we try to draw conclusions about how easy or hard it is to publish this or that, we wind up making hasty generalizations. It seems to me that the the whole system of what gets published and what gets rejected is essentially so complex that there's no way to ever master it. The best one can do is work hard by rewriting, revising, and developing one's craft; send out properly formatted submissions; and hope to get lucky.